Building a ping pong ball catapult with six drinking straws, three rubber bands and duct tape in 35 minutes proved to be a formidable but fun task for many of the near 1,500 students from across the state at University of Wisconsin-Stout for the Wisconsin Science Olympiad tournament being held through Saturday.
“It was hard,” said Mariah Marvin, a Boyceville Middle School seventh-grader. “We didn’t know how to start. We didn’t want to make the same one as everyone else.”
Marvin and teammate Andrea Jensen, a Boyceville eighth-grader, opted to create a triangularly shaped catapult with a duct tape ping pong ball launch strap in Ballroom B of the Memorial Student Center.
The two were pleased that the state tournament, beginning Friday with the Stout Expo and opening ceremony, was so close to home. The competition begins Saturday at 9 a.m., with an awards ceremony at 4 p.m. at Johnson Fieldhouse.
Jensen said she was impressed by how many people were willing to volunteer and share their time and knowledge at the expo. Students were given the opportunity to explore various science fields, hear lectures and see university students at work. Fields they explored included physics, engineering, biochemistry, biology and zoology.
Parker Coombs and teammate Caden Wold, both Boyceville seventh-graders, created a catapult with more duct tape to hold the straws together, and the rubber bands became the launching mechanism for the ping pong balls.
“It’s definitely harder than it looks,” Coombs said, as he added duct tape to a straw. “We’re trying to make it sturdy, but with the supports we have it’s hard.”
Coombs said he enjoys being part of the Boyceville Science Olympiad varsity team. “I learn a lot and it’s fun,” he said.
Wold said he enjoys being part of the team because he gets to meet other students.
Boyceville High School science teacher Andy Hamm said he loves coaching Science Olympiad and being a part of the tournaments. “It gets kids excited about learning,” Hamm said. “It gives them the opportunity to apply what they learn. They can have fun while learning science.”
About 70 students between sixth to 12th grade from Boyceville were at UW-Stout. “It’s just a great event,” Hamm said. “Stout does such a wonderful job.”
Chuck Bomar, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management, couldn’t help but smile as he visited during areas where students were learning about science. “I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Bomar said. “We’re all celebrating science together, and we’re sharing what we know.”
In Jarvis Hall Science Wing, Alan Gomez, a UW-Stout alumnus, chief academic officer and co-founder of STEM 101, measured distances student-made rockets from drinking straws, tape and clay traveled using 50 pounds of air pressure.
The aerodynamic challenge is designed to help students learn the importance of failure, Gomez said. “A lot of times in education you don’t get a second or third attempt,” he said.
STEM 101 is part of the STEM Academy, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing economic development by improving STEM literacy for all students.
By focusing on a small project, students could try many, many times to improve the distance their straw rockets would fly, altering their designs in the process. “By failing and improving and improving some more they are learning how to manipulate an experiment to get a different result,” he said.
Ben Ehlert, a Menomonie High School sophomore, enjoyed the straw rocket challenge the most. “I like the fact it is new to Science Olympiad,” he said. “It’s a trial and error event. You can keep trying to improve. Other events you get one shot and it’s over.”
Ehlert found by sealing the end of the straw with clay he got the most distance. However, too much clay and the straw rocket was unbalanced and did not fly as far.
Katey Eickhoff, a junior at New Richmond High School, enjoys the opportunity to compete and learn about science. She wants to work in neuroscience with an emphasis in linguistics. “Science is so versatile,” Eickhoff said. “There is so much you can do. There are so many opportunities. Science opens so many career doors for both males and females.”
Joshua Loera, a sophomore at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, enjoys being a part of Science Olympiad because he gets to meet new people. “It’s a social builder,” he said. “There are also so many team-building and mind-building skills.”
Along with UW-Stout, tournament sponsors are Xcel Energy and Phillips Medisize.
Science Olympiad promotes K-12 science education throughout the U.S. with fun, competitive events.
UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.
New Richmond High School students Katey Eickhoff, at left, and Merrick Scholz get ready to launch a drinking straw rocket the Stout Expo.
Boyceville Middle School students Mariah Marvin, at left, and Andrea Jensen found creating a drinking straw catapult more difficult than they thought but enjoyed the project at the Stout Expo.
Boyceville Middle School students Caden Wold, at left, and Parker Coombs found duct tape helpful as they stabilized their drinking straw catapult.